Dr Winston Adams | Role of tertiary education institutions in fighting violent crime in Jamaica
Jamaica's murder rate - up by 20 per cent over last year - has many Jamaicans in despair as the atrocious bloodletting continues in our little island. The high incidence of violent crime has tested the mettle of the Government. Its latest effort to tackle the crime monster includes the Special Zones Law recently passed in Parliament. This could, indeed, be one tangible solution.
There has been a steady growth of tertiary education graduates from institutions in Jamaica over the past few decades. Notwithstanding, it is unacceptable that most of the sharpest minds from our tertiary education sector, including its leadership and graduates, are apparently unable to make an even greater contribution in devising more practical and tangible solutions to what nearly all Jamaicans admit is the number one impediment to the economic growth and sustainable development of this country.
However, it is also fair to say that, to some extent, Jamaica's tertiary education sector has been involved in the search for solutions to the problem of violent crime. For instance, there are several relevant degrees, courses and initiatives on offer at local institutions which seek to equip our people with professional approaches to addressing the serious problem of crime and violence. Some of these initiatives include:
- The creation of a Centre for Public Safety and Justice by the University of the West Indies (UWI) to provide strategic advice to governments, regional organisations and the private sector in the region.
- The establishment of Caribbean Genetics (CARIGEN) at UWI Mona, the first independent forensic DNA laboratory to provide forensic DNA services to citizens and the judicial system.
- The approval at UWI of a Masters programme (MSc) in Forensic Science targeted to graduates in sciences and medical programmes, and persons working in the criminal justice sector such as police officers and forensic services.
- The Masters in National Security and Strategic Studies at UWI Mona which enhances the professional training of the senior managers of the security sector.
- Bachelor of Law (LLB) degrees offered by several tertiary education institutions locally, which prepares them to pursue the Certificate in Legal Education offered by the Norman Manley Law School, which qualifies persons to be called to the Bar to practise as attorneys-at-law (In the last few years more than 90 per cent of persons admitted to the Norman Manley Law School obtain their law degrees from the UWI).
- Numerous studies, papers, consultancies and presentations on violent crime by tertiary sector academics over the years. The research of Prof Anthony Harriott, Prof Trevor Munroe, Dr Herbert Gayle and others have been consulted (or ignored) in forming the basis of state policies to address the crime scourge.
- The University of Technology (UTech) offers a BSc in Forensic Chemistry with such crime-detecting skills such as Drugs and Toxicology, Fibre Analysis, Fire and Explosion Investigation and Ballistics.
- The National Police College of Jamaica, the official training institution for our police force, offers an Associate of Science course in Criminal Justice. Some 32 persons were in the most recent batch of graduates in January 2017.
- Also, the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) will now offer a BSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice which involves "investigating the nature of crime and criminality and the study of society's response through the criminal justice system."
There have also been success stories emanating from our tertiary education institutions as they seek solutions in the fight against crime. Perhaps best known among them is the role of UWI Mona through its non-governmental organisation, Mona Social Services in building partnerships to improve the social and economic conditions of the under-served communities surrounding the campus. UWI's work helped in part in the dramatic reduction in the murder rate in the previously violence-torn community of August Town, registering zero murder in 2016.
UTech in its effort to counteract the crime scourge collaborated with state and private entities last February to stage Papine Wellness Fest. Impacting on 11 neighbouring communities, the focus of the Wellness Fest was to "strengthen the social and economic fabric of communities, and empower young people towards wholesome activities and away from the lure of crime and other antisocial behaviour".
In October last year, the UWI Western Jamaica campus disclosed that it was collaborating with the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI), in undertaking research on the crime epidemic afflicting the parish.
Also, the annual Research Day at The Mico University College last April was held under the theme, 'Education Re-imagined: Toward a Solution for Crime and Violence'. Some 24 papers were presented on the day focusing on a range of solutions to address violent crime as well as the effects on the society.
Strong strategic focus
This list of activities by local tertiary institutions in helping
to address the perennial problem of violent crime admittedly
has a strong strategic focus primarily at one level only. It is, therefore, by no means exhaustive as the problem has indeed occupied the plans of most tertiary institutions in Jamaica.
Furthermore, the issue of lack of access to tertiary education largely for our disadvantaged youth and its possible impact on violent crime in Jamaica should also be of a very serious concern to all of us. Although we have been realising a steady growth over the past decade or so, Jamaica still has one of the lowest levels of access to tertiary education of the eligible age cohort in the entire region, which is below 18 per cent. Most of our Caribbean Community partners are averaging 35 to 40 per cent access. Sadly, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that, even with such already low percentage access, the ratio of male to female pursuing tertiary and post-secondary education is also tragically low at 30 to 70. Our males, who are generally more vulnerable to committing acts of violent crimes, are undoubtedly still being marginalised in our country.
Directionally, therefore, is it a coincidence or should it even be surprising that we have been experiencing such alarming levels of violent crime - the highest in the region and among the highest in this part of the world simultaneously with low exposure of males to tertiary education? It is evident that tertiary institutions must begin developing even more relevant curricula and programmes, through appropriate instructional design, which could potentially be more attractive or appealing to more of our male aspirants.
Suffice to say, we are indeed aware that the Government, in partnership with the Joint Committee on Tertiary Education and HEART/NTA, has since last year embarked on several major short and long-term interventions in helping to address this ongoing crisis with the implementation of training initiatives such as the absorptive capacity, upskilling and retooling programmes. In this regard, it is encouraging to know that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has tabled an apparent policy imperative that 80 per cent of all graduating students should by age 30 hold the equivalent of at least an occupational degree as there is need for a culture of continuous education, training and certification in Jamaica. Undoubtedly, this must be unreservedly applauded.
Ultimately, in the long term, it is also clear that a successful fight against violent crime in Jamaica has to begin with providing relevant education with a focus on engendering better values and attitudes at the levels of the individual, home, and the community. On the other hand, in the short term, the authorities must ensure that there are strong and credible deterrents to those individuals who may be so inclined or motivated to commit serious crimes.
Not withstanding the above, from a strategic stand point, we implore the Government, private sector, international partners and all stakeholders to draw on the research and expertise of the higher education sector in refining and implementing plans to address the persistent problem of violent crime.
- Dr Winston Adams, JP, is group executive chairman of the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC), a private higher-education institution, and a member of the UCC Group & the American Council on Education, ACE. He is also immediate past Chairman of the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education and 1st Vice President of the Jamaica Association of Private Tertiary Institutions.